Things waxed and waned at The White Sarcophagus that spring. Little Miss Ruffles, all of nineteen year’s old, brought youthful energy to the salon most days and hung out in the back room moping on rare days when teen angst rolled in. She was happy to wait on customers, engage brides in open-ended conversations about their weddings, and re-merchandise the store during slower times. The less glamorous tasks, garbage and vacuuming, were at the very end of her “to do” list.
One day we were eating lunch in the back room and brainstorming about ways to increase sales. There were other bridal salons in the area and when brides would come to our shop, we’d always ask if this was their first stop or their third, trying to gauge dress fatigue and general thoughts about the hunt. If a bride copped an attitude or looked down her nose as she climbed the Sarcophagus stairs, it might mean she had been to the competition up the road Kelsey and I laughingly called “The Bratty Bride.” This salon was “by appointment only” and if a bride should happen to wander in off the street, she would be quickly relegated to the appointment desk and barred from entering the inner sanctum of satins and silks. On the other hand, if a bride commented on the cozy, personal touch of our salon, it suggested she had been to David’s Bridal, the Men’s Warehouse of the wedding trade. Where The White Sarcophagus fell among the competition was not clear; Facebook had barely gotten off the ground and social media was still in the awkward stage. Bay and Carleen didn’t have much time for competitive analysis, either.
“I think we should go undercover to The Bratty Bride and see what goes on there,” I suggested.
Little Miss Ruffles raised her eyebrows and seemed surprised. I offered to make the appointment and we’d pose as a mother and daughter. We’d analyze the salon, the dresses, the attitudes, and even the bathrooms if necessary. I’d make the call from home to prevent any tracking of phone numbers.
Two weeks later, Little Miss Ruffles and I were sitting in the waiting room of The Bratty Bride, posing as “Jennifer Brown” and her mother, “Mrs. George Brown.”
Nervous? Of course, but the show must go on. Our “personal shopping assistant” steered us to the inner rooms of the salon and directed us towards a rounder of mid-priced dresses. She suggested “Jennifer” select two or three dresses; she picked up a simple princess style gown and “Jennifer” quickly pointed out two other random dresses and we were whisked into a large fitting room. I sat down on a tufted slipper chair and our personal shopping assistant helped “Jennifer” into her first gown. I had a little notebook and I jotted down notes while making conversation about “the wedding” and “your fiancé Brian” and “Daddy’s relatives from San Diego.”
Things were going well; I was making many good observations about the system and the methods of The Bratty Bride and Little Miss Ruffles was attentive and reserved. At the suggestion of our personal shopping assistant, she went out into the larger room to look at herself in the many mirrors. I stayed in the fitting room, jotting down notes.
In a swish of satin, Little Miss Ruffles rushed back into the dressing room and closed the door behind her. Alarmed, she said “Sally the seamstress is here! I saw her going into another fitting room!”
“Did she see you?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Was she stoned?”
“I don’t know.”
The Sally sighting changed our undercover expedition quickly and I told Kelsey to start crying. She pulled a tissue out of her purse and sniffled, hyperventilating a bit, and then said “I can’t try on anymore dresses today, Mom.”
Our personal shopping assistant tapped at the door and asked if anything was wrong? I explained that “Jennifer” was a sensitive spirit, easily overwhelmed, and that we’d have to cut our visit short. This didn’t sit well with the assistant eager to sell us a dress and realizing she would not make a sale to Mrs. George Brown, she handed me her business card and suggested I call when “my little angel, Jennifer” was feeling better.
Jennifer and Mrs. George Brown made a quick escape out of The Bratty Bride and back into the warm natural light of a May afternoon. Our first and last undercover expedition having met a fast end, we stopped for an ice cream to calm our nerves.